Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wild Wednesday ~ November Color

I had Wednesday off last week, for Veteran's Day, and I went out again in search of my missing mystery tree. I tromped all over a different part of our woods, but still did not find one. I did, however, see several interesting fungi, including this one that had kind of spiny things instead of gills.

And this pretty green and red shelf polypore (I really need to get a fungus field guide!!).

I also found this little Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), which I didn't know we had growing out there. Supposedly it's named Christmas fern because it stays green through the winter, but I think it's really because the fronds look like children's drawings of Christmas trees.

On Saturday we went hiking with visiting guests and saw some more November color, like this orange jelly fungus.

And a bright red partridge berry (Mitchell reopens).

And finally I found my tree: witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana).

C spotted it first, one of several growing together in an area. I think I would have just passed it by because it's not what I expected. Even though I've seen native witchazel growing in the wild, and know intellectually it's a smallish shrub and pretty low-profile, I had in mind those two beautiful cultivated trees (which, incidentally, are still blooming) and I was looking for something equally tall and bright and grand. These little wild guys had already shed their flowers, which look like leggy yellow spiders. So now I have a new mission: find witchhazel in my woods, looking for something smaller, and subtler, and altogether completely different from what I was looking for before.

What's wild in your neck of the woods?

P.S. I'm taking a self-imposed blogging break over the next week or two, while I deal, once and for all, with the storage issues on my computer that I've just been bandaging along for the last year. I'll see you on the flip side!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Chili-in'

Way back a month or so ago, after our first frost, I picked all of the chili peppers off the plants, cooked the few poblanos that made it to maturity into chile rellenos, and stuffed the rest in a bag. C used quite a few in making salsa, but the rest, we just kind of forgot about, ignored.

Once in a while, one of us would say, "We should do something about those chiles," and the other would agree, and then nothing would happen. Then this weekend, C pointed out to me that they were starting to rot, and the crisis that I usually require for action spurred me on. 

I sorted out the still good chiles from the nasty ones and had enough to make two jars of pickled jalapeƱos, using Catherine Newman's brilliant refrigerator pickle anything recipe. I had some brine left over, so I threw a bunch of mini rainbow carrots in a jar and pickled them, too.

The rest of not-rotten chiles, which are a different variety (I'm not sure what), were already starting to whither a bit, so I strung them up to dry.

I suppose the crisis-response method of food preservation is not the most efficient, and it's fairly wasteful (oh, those sad chilis I had to throw away), but sometimes it's what's needed to get the job done.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wild Wednesday ~ November Wandering

There's a certain kind of tree that's flowering right now. I had sort of forgotten about it until I saw two specimens covered in golden flowers right outside my office that I'd never noticed before, and I made it my mission last weekend to find an individual in our woods at home.

I think I've seen one around here before, but I'm not sure where, so I trekked off-trail, into the woods, eyes peeled for yellow blooms. As I stomped along, I came across this bright green log. The color is from a fungus, Chlorociboria, or green elf cup. Unfortunately, it wasn't fruiting right now. The fruiting bodies, just like their common name suggests, are also bright green, and I'd love to see one.

I did, however see a bright red fruiting body. Like I've mentioned before, I haven't taken the time to learn mushrooms very well yet--and I don't even have a comprehensive field guide--so I don't know what this little guy is called.

Nor this one, but it's so pretty with the yellowish gills and jaunty caps.

I trekked a fair distance one way, realizing that I was probably in the wrong habitat for the tree I was looking for, surrounded as I was by evergreens, but the walking was easy. I turned around and headed back along our trail, stopping to enjoy a moment by the river, before making my way into denser deciduous growth.

I think this fungus might be chicken of the woods, which is edible. I want to go back with a field guide in hand and bring some home to cook.

This is an amazing year for winterberry (Ilex verticillata). I found tons of the bright red berries in places where I didn't even know it grew.

But I didn't find the tree I was looking for. It should have been easy to find the tree I was looking for, with most of the leaves down. I kept my eyes open for its bright yellow blossoms. I was fooled a few times by golden apples or leaves that still clung to their branches, but I find any flowers. 

I did, however, see several larch (Larix laricina) trees that I never knew about growing across the road, and one somewhat haggard looking specimens on our very own land. These deciduous conifer trees are easiest to spot at this time of year, when their needles turn a delicious caramel color, in preparation for falling off. In the summer, they blend in with the other greenery, looking from the distance like fir trees.

And, when I retraced my steps because I had dropped something, I found this belated, confused, and somewhat shrunken buttercup (Ranunculus sp.) growing at the edge of the field. It's not what I was looking for, but it was a bright spot on a gray day.

I have not given up (yet) on my November bloom. Maybe I'll find one next weekend. Bonus points if you know what tree I'm talking about.

What's wild in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


After a long, dry spell on the publishing front, I was very pleased to have a short story accepted by the literary magazine Saltfront.

While I've had a few nonfiction pieces appear here and there, this is my first piece of fiction published post-MFA, which is both exciting and gratifying.

Not only does my story appear first in Issue #4, but it's also accompanied by two fantastic illustrations.

I couldn't be more pleased!

Monday, November 9, 2015

About Those Ducks

I've been meaning to write about the ducks for some time. I mentioned last time when I wrote about them that they're a lot more work than chickens. Since our chickens only lasted two months, I can only speak to the first two months of work, but here's where ducks made trouble: 
  1. They grew a lot faster and bigger than the chickens (jumping out of their enclosure after just a couple of days; moved to an enclosure with taller walls, and jumping out of that, too).
  2. So, so messy. They splash water everywhere, so their bedding had to be changed daily. When we moved them to their outside home, we didn't change the bedding every day and it grew maggots. So many maggots.
  3. They're dumb. Like really, really dumb. (Z said, "If they were a knife in the drawer, they'd be the frosting spreader."). They run around in a clump like a kindergarten soccer team, following each other off a cliff if they get in a huff (or at least off a low retaining wall). They're as terrified of the people who feed and water them as they are of wild animals (and these are supposed to be calm breeds).
But they're (mostly) still alive, which is more than I can say for the chickens. This is the house we kept them in over the summer: Duck Knox.
It has 1/2-inch mesh screening and triple locks to keep out the predators. We did lose one to a raccoon while we were on vacation, because our house-sitter left them in their less-secure daytime enclosure overnight, and we almost lost one to a fox or coyote in early September. 
I woke in the middle of the night to a loud, quack-quack-quack-quack-quack, and ran outside in nighty and rubber boots. I'd grabbed a flashlight on my way out the door and by its light saw that we had somehow forgotten to shut the ducks up in Duck Knox. They were huddled inside, and by the beam of the flashlight, it appeared they were all inside and accounted for, but I could hear a rustling in the woods nearby and, as I was wrestling with the door, what should come waddling out but one of the white ducks, with a droopy wing and four bloody holes in her back. She hobbled over to the pool and stood there while I filled the night water and then made her way inside with the other ducks.

I didn't expect her to live out the night, but she was alive the next morning and over the next week or so, she kept her neck tucked to her back and moved around gingerly. I didn't see her eat or drink and the other ducks picked on her a little, and I still expected her to die (we decided not to try to treat the wounds, figuring our attempt to catch her and pour alcohol in her cuts would stress her out and be more hindrance than help to healing). But after a week or so, she was back to her old ducky self, and now we can't even tell which duck was the injured one.
C has built them a two-story duck castle in the garage for their winter quarters, and he ran electricity underground from the house so we can give them light and heat their water this winter. They've gotten a little less skittish and spastic (though they're still quite ridiculous).
And they've started to give us these:

For the last two weeks they've been dropping eggs here and there (sometimes even in the nest box). They're surprisingly good--with nice thick whites and golden yolks that cook to creamy perfection.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Insane

You might have heard of this school of organization that involves taking every item you own in one category, placing them all in the middle of the room, and asking each one if it still serves you. I haven't actually read the book that started this trend (in point of fact, I ran out of the bookstore screaming in terror after just reading the introduction), but it has crept into my brain, wriggling away in there, tempting me to put it to work on our books. Finally on Sunday it overpowered me and I started schlepping books from all over the house to the middle of the living room floor. Here's how it looked halfway through:
And here's how it looked when I got all of the books from the living room and the stairwell book cases and the bedroom piles and end tables onto the staging area (I did not include any of the books from the kids' room, any of my writing books, which live on two shelves in my room, any of my cookbooks, or any of the books that C has down in the basement).

At this point I realized I had made a terrible, terrible mistake. Not only did I still have to sort through them all, deciding which to keep and which to let go and then convince C to go through the let-go books to see if there were any there he wanted to keep, but I would then have to sort the keep books into categories, dust and reshelve them, and ferry all of the rejects to the library. By this point I was already exhausted (since most of our books live in our stairway, there was a lot of climbing up and down just to get this far) and sick of books and dust.

But I forged ahead, got everything sorted out and tidied away. I took two boxes and four bags of books to the library (in two separate trips, since they only take three at a time) and I have two more bags to take to the thrift store (of things the library won't take, like text books). Somehow, despite getting rid of that many books, I still barely had room to reshelve all of the books we're keeping (though there's no longer a giant pile of books at the top of the stairs, and some of the shelves have a little wiggle room in them, for future book additions). I also have a renewed commitment to get most of my books from the library (I kept thinking to myself, "Imagine how much worse this would be if I didn't check out so many books from the library!").

I didn't take any "after" pictures, because by the time I was done it was even darker than it had been all gloomy day, and I figured they just looked like shelves of books, but I've been finding myself stopping midway up the stairs to admire the nice, orderly, cobweb-free rows of books, so maybe I'll take a few shots this weekend to share next week. 

Now I'm hoping I've put this organization bug to rest and it will leave me be for a while.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wild Wednesday ~ Tiny

I went for a walk over the weekend, looking for something to include in this week's Wild post. Most of the leaves have fallen, except for the marcescent red oak, beech, and some American hornbeam, but I've already shared those this fall. I thought about a post on evergreen trees, but it's still too early to resort to that. I was feeling a little it's-almost-winter-and-everything's-dead blues. But it was a nice day, and I sat by the river for a long while. Now that the leaves are off the trees, there's more water in the stream (trees suck up a lot of water to feed their leaves). I noticed some tiny fairy cup lichen on the base of a hemlock tree. I didn't have my phone with macro lens on me, and I had accidentally left the wide angle on my camera after a different photo session, so the picture didn't really turn out (and I didn't have time to key it out anyway). On my way home, I spotted this teeny, tiny mushroom on the trail. I don't know it's name, but it's awfully sweet, growing in a miniature forest of sphagnum moss, and reminding me that there's always something interesting to be seen outdoors, in all seasons.

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